Sermon by Kelly February 21 2021

1st Sunday in Lent Sermon by Kelly Lamb

This week we celebrated Ash Wednesday. This was the first day of Lent which starts a season in the church calendar designed to prepare us for Easter and bring us closer to Christ. Many people would know lent by the giving up of sweet treats, and then the consumption of chocolate at Easter – 40 days later.

However, this lent season is an invitation to prepare ourselves to head off into our own wildernesses. It is a beautiful invitation to know God more, to fast, pray, forgive and care for others. We can learn more about the heart of lent and this season by turning to today’s gospel reading as it is the epicenter of lent:

Mark 1:9-15 says,

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[g] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

All four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – all reference Jesus’ baptism – however, Mark opens with the story of Jesus’ baptism.

The way for Jesus was to be prepared, this is stated clearly in Mark but also fulfills prophesies in

Isaiah stating:

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord[a];
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.[b]

So John the Baptist answered and was in the wilderness – he was baptizing those from Judea and Jerusalem. He was speaking of the repentance and forgiveness of sins and the people were coming to him to confess and be baptized. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be John, to be inviting people toward forgiveness and baptism, and to be preparing the way for Jesus?

Then Jesus appears from Galilee, and was Baptized by John in the Jordan river. When Jesus came out of the water, after being baptized, a voice spoke to him and said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” In this moment, Jesus was named, given identity to, called, and titled – the Son of God. The Spirit descended and Jesus was sent into the wilderness for 4o days where he was tempted by Satan. These days must have been grueling. He would have been hungry, tired and meanwhile was being tempted. I can’t imagine the loneliness and tiredness that Jesus would have felt. After Jesus came back from the wilderness, he proclaimed the good news saying, 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” This is a story of Jesus fulfilling the prophesies, being baptized and named and being sent out into the wilderness for 4o days before he proclaims the message of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Why are these verses significant for us at this time? There are 3 reasons:

  1. In the Church calendar, we are in the season of lent which signifies the 40days that Jesus was in the wilderness.
  2. This is an invitation toward Christ, to experience the wilderness with Him. He is calling each of us into an awareness of our own wilderness and to seek Him at this time.
  3. It is a time to fast, pray, repent and care for others – and to prepare the way for Christ, and to prepare ourselves to remember the Easter story, where the redemptive story of God is fulfilled in Christ.

Lent and 40 days with Jesus:

Lent is a beautiful reminder in the church calendar to be aware of the wildernesses in which we live. As a community of saints, individuals, a church body and followers of Christ we get to spend 40 days fixing our gaze on Christ. These 40 days represent the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness that Mark speaks of. We get to co-labor and experience these same days with our Savior. Although we are not tempted in the same way, it is a season to consider the suffering of our Lord and to choose to walk into our own wilderness as we turn our lives toward Christ. Like Mark states, the spirit descended and sent Jesus into the wilderness. Although we might not have the same sense of being sent, Lent and this season is a beautiful spiritual practice to experience the emotion, rawness, and suffering of our Christ as he prepared himself to preach the good news and to change our world in the direction of redemption.

2. Wilderness:

Jesus was called out into the wilderness. The wilderness is a scared place, and in it’s original language meant a solitary, lonely, desolate, and uninhabited place. Jesus was alone in his temptation and in this season of suffering and temptation. Like Jesus, COVID-19 and the many social regulations have forced us to also be in a certain kind of wilderness. We are definitely solitary and lonely, and limited to our households. Jesus was sent into a lonely wilderness, and I believe a great work was done there. Out of the wilderness, he came back prepared to preach a message of redemption and salvation. My hope for our community is that we can welcome this season of wilderness, this lonely place, this solitary place, this very unique Lent season – and that in welcoming this season and in seeking Christ we can begin a deeper preparation to preach and live the good news of Redemption which Jesus came to teach us and welcome us into. It has been a hard season, and a painful one for many of us, but lent, and the reminder of Mark 1:9-15 is a beautiful invitation to co-exist and co-labor in the wilderness and preparation that Jesus experienced.

  • The Tradition of Lent:

These 40 day, have a lot of tradition embedded in them now. Many people hold the tradition of fasting, to co-labor with Christ in his suffering. They take something out of their lives in order to fast like Jesus experienced in the wilderness as referenced in Mark 1. That can be something like chocolate, or TV, or really anything that you use to distract yourself from seeking more of Christ. This is a time to give up something in our lives, so that we can fix our eyes on Christ. I have heard some people speaking this year saying that because this year has been so hard on us, due to COVID-19 and the many losses that has entailed, we should be gentle on ourselves. However, the tradition of fasting can be a beautiful expression of moving toward Christ, and putting a daily reminder in our lives of the experience of Jesus, and for this to regain our attention.

Many people also add a different rhythm of prayer to their life, often focusing on forgiveness and repentance. What in our lives do we need to ask for repentance for? Who do we need to forgive and what does this look like? What would it look like to structure these 40 days to hold a unique rhythm of prayer in each of our lives where we could actively search our beings for ways in which we need forgiveness and need to forgive those around us. This is a remarkable season where we can focus on contemplation and prayer, moving into repentance and forgiveness.

At this time, the tradition is called “alms-giving”, but it is the focus on the other. I know that focusing on the other at this point in world history is difficult, but how can we be attentive to one another’s needs and reach out to those who are in need. How can we pray for those around us and support those who are suffering? Who in your world needs care at this time and are there creative ways in which we can care for them. Lent is a great time to care for others in our life.

Lent is designed to guide us into our own wilderness so that we can experience the life of Christ, we can give up something and turn to prayer. The heart of this season is that we can be prepared to welcome Easter, the story of Christ’s resurrection and to preach this amazing story of redemption to those in our life. This dark wintery season of the soul, where we pair back, and spend extra time in prayer is our season of preparation, it is a season of closeness with our maker so that we can be even more inspired to serve our communities, and witness the Holy Spirit at work.

I hope that the words of Mark 1:9-15 were inspiring for you, and that you can welcome this season, as an individual, but also as a whole. Together, let’s turn to Christ in our suffering and solitary and lonely seasons and ask him to show himself to us. May our lives be cleansed, forgiven and prepared to bring the gospel to our communities.

From the Book of Common Prayer, it reads:

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and alms-giving; and by reading and mediating on God’s Holy word. And to make a right beginning, let us now pray for grace, that we may faithfully keep this Lent.”